The Dead Key by D M Pulley (Thomas & Mercer, 2015)
D M Pulley’s The Dead Key has attracted all sorts of attention from kindle users and Amazon buyers. It’s the first novel from Ms. Pulley who has worked as a structural engineer for many years. The plot is tight and suspenseful. If you’ve ever spent any time around shuttered and abandoned buildings which were once magnificent, as I have, you will find the book a worthwhile read. The entire town I work in is filled with re-purposed factory buildings. As a matter of fact, I’m typing from an old textile mill which has been turned into an office building. And if you hail from Ohio, like me, you’ll find the novel very interesting as it depicts Cleveland during its darkest hour and on the point of renewal.
The novel takes place in two different time periods: 1978 and 1998. In 1978, a young woman named Bernadette has started a job at a huge bank in Cleveland with the help of the aunt she lives with. In 1998, a woman named Iris, a young engineer, is trying to map out the bank building which has sat empty for the past twenty years. In 1978, the city of Cleveland is on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1998, the bank which was shuttered for collapsing during the bankruptcy is up for sale. It’s been preserved intact with most of the files and furniture still left inside after closing twenty years ago.
The main focus of Dead Key is the safety deposit boxes. There are hundreds of them without anyway to be opened because the keys to them were lost. However, there is a dead key which went missing when the bank was closed in 1978. A “dead key”, we are informed is a master key which is used to open any of the safety deposit boxes. With that key, any box can be opened. Both Bernadette in the past and Iris in the present discover someone has been looting the boxes owned by the deceased. The pilfering of the safety deposit boxes was one of the reasons the banks were shut down in 1978. But not the only one.
There are seventy-six chapters in this book which switch from 1978 to 1998. It’s a lengthy work which seems to have been plotted with a CAD machine. At the conclusion it seemed I had walked through the old bank and knew every part of it. If you are a fan of the old diagram mysteries, you’ll be mad she doesn’t include a complete break-down chart of the building.
However, this book could use some characters who aren’t cookie-cutter. The characters just don’t jump out and involve you. To the author’s credit, she didn’t go “Mary Sue” and give us a woman engineer who is free from all original sin. The engineer in this book has all kinds of drinking and personal problems.
And although the book does let us find out who was responsible for the bank’s demise, we never find out the fate of several of the key characters. I found this to be a little frustrating. I can’ t tell if the author intends on wrapping that aspect up in a later novel.
So I give The Dead Key a recommendation, but feel it could have been a lot better.